Responding to Rutenberg: Drawing vs. Painting

ID #110


Brian Rutenberg, in his Studio Visit #18 , quotes a German artist, Walter Sickert, who said, “Drawing is about captivity. Painting is about freedom.”  This one little quote has stuck with me and caused all kinds of back & forth in my brain as I consider what’s being said here. I don’t think Rutenberg is in any way pitting the one against the other to somehow say that one is better than another.  He is merely putting forth a fundamental difference in the ACTION of or the RESULT of drawing & that of painting.

He says, “I’m really invested in that notion of capturing something and using that as a springboard into the process of abstraction.”

I love that.  Brian calls himself a Painter.  Every time I hear him say that, I find myself wanting to say…”And I am a Drawer.”  Which doesn’t mean that I do not paint…I do and love to paint! But fundamentally I love to capture the Beauty of the world around me whether it be recognizable things, places, people, or events which are inherently lovely OR whether it is something I’ve had to hunt for in the midst of the mundane in life, or even in the painful places of life.  I feel it is my job to look for and capture any hint of Beauty by drawing it in my sketchbook or on larger pieces of paper or canvases.

I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE Brian Rutenberg’s drawings of trees (you can see a few of them in the documentaries).  They are exquisite.  I have done a fair amount of drawing/painting trees and they are some of my favorite works.  As I look at his “drawings” of trees, they seem very painterly to me.  This distinction between what is considered “drawing” and what is considered “painting” is not a black and white issue to me.  I believe one can paint with a pen, a pencil, and with charcoal…mediums that are typically associated with drawing.  And I believe one can draw with watercolor, acrylics, and oils…definitely paint substances.  Is it merely the presence of line which marks a drawing?  Is it the evidence of brushstrokes which denotes a painting? Or is it a massed-in approach (blocking in the large shapes before the smaller ones) which deems a work a painting?  Or…what?  I’ve settled on it being a fuzzy area and which really doesn’t need to be defined.

But if I go with Sickert’s definition here, I have to say that I am definitely a DRAWER.  My eyes are constantly on the lookout for things/people/events/places that I want to capture in my sketchbook or larger papers or canvases.  Yet even Sickert’s definition may be fluid.  As I capture these moments by drawing them, I experience a sense of freedom.  As if, the simple act of drawing (or painting:) sets me free to say “yes” to the moment, to accept where I am, and to fully inhabit the gamut of life’s beauties.

So…was I drawing or painting the first image?  How ’bout the tree…did I draw it or paint it?  It really doesn’t matter.  I was definitely capturing something, whether it was an idea about the tangle of creative thoughts or an assertion of the wisdom and experience of an old tree.  In capturing these, I was also freeing them to exist somewhere other than in that space and time AND freeing me to embrace all the wonder that life has to offer.  I do enjoy thinking about these things.  It seems that Mr. Rutenberg does also.

Thank you, once again, Brian.

And here’s a quote by Edgar Degas I came across recently…good stuff to think about:

“Drawing is the artist’s most direct and spontaneous expression, a species of writing: it reveals, better than does painting, his true personality.”
(Edgar Degas)

0 thoughts on “Responding to Rutenberg: Drawing vs. Painting

  1. Sandra says:

    I like your post. Some quotes can be tossed aside. We are all learning to do what we enjoy. I don’t like the idea that drawing is a “lesser” art than painting.

    • jenpedwards says:

      I don’t like that idea either…but I don’t think Rutenberg (or Sickert) meant it in that way. At least, I don’t want to think they did. 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment!

  2. Cathy Holtom says:

    This has often been debated but I’m still not 100% sure myself what makes a ‘painting’ a painting. I quite like the idea that it depends on how much of the pigment covers the paper or support, be it coloured pencil, paint or ink. Interesting post !

  3. meegan parkee says:

    great post and love the tree, yet another side to your artwork.

    I wouldn’t concern myself too much with Sickert’s attitude to drawing. In his time drawing was seen as merely a process to develop layouts and studies for paintings, they were never appreciated as artworks on their own. Even watercolours weren’t seen as a true art form until the 18th century, before then they were only used for quick sketches leading up to an oil painting.

    • jenpedwards says:

      Thank you Meegan for this helpful bit of historical information! And thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment!

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